Canadian Press
Thursday, January 21, 1999

Child porn judge considered student of the law

by Ian Bailey

Justice Duncan W. Shaw, of the B.C. Supreme Court, ruled Friday that the law against possessing child pornography violates a person's constitutional freedoms. Shawis shown in an Aug. 1987 photo. (CP PHOTO)
VANCOUVER (CP) -- Justice Duncan Shaw, described by friends as a no-nonsense "student of the law", is getting a hard lesson in controversy over his recent ruling against Canada's child pornography laws.

Then again, those friends and associates say Shaw may be shrugging it off because his devotion to the law allows him to look past the controversy.

"He's the kind of judge who looks at the law and the legal principles and would say, based on that, that this law is unconstitutional", said criminal lawyer Glen Orris, who has appeared before Shaw on several cases.

"Nothing else would influence him, whether it was popular or otherwise."

But that matters little to members of the public outraged at Shaw's decision to clear Robin Sharpe of two charges of possessing child pornography because the Criminal Code section violated Sharpe's charter rights.

Shaw's bombshell decision has left the police and Crown scrambling to continue cracking the whip on child porn.

And it has stirred up a whirlwind of criticism against Shaw, including questions about his values and competence.

The Ottawa-based agency that handles complaints about federally appointed judges got an earful in one working day this week when 50 people called to lash out at Shaw, a lawyer for 29 years before he was appointed to the bench.

"People were apparently saying, 'This is an outrage', 'This judge should be fired', and then hanging up", Jeannie Thomas, executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council, said Wednesday.

"It's most unfortunate", Thomas said. "Imagine if you were a judge and you were personally criticized for a decision you made to the best of your ability based on your understanding of the law."

Shaw, 66, does not have to imagine.

The married father of two children is facing angry editorials, hectoring radio hosts and barbed letters to the editor that question his fitness to sit on the bench.

These are the bumps in an otherwise sterling career.

Shaw was raised in Vancouver and graduated from law school in 1958. He settled in at Davis and Co., one of Vancouver's biggest law firms, moving up the ranks to become senior partner before he went to the bench in 1987.

"He's a very solid kind of by-the-book judge, decides cases only on what's in front of him, a very conscientious guy", said Ross Ellison, a senior partner at Davis and a friend of Shaw's.

Shaw the judge is very much like Shaw the lawyer, said Ellison, who was wary about chatting about his friend.

"He was a very hard-working, conscientious lawyer. (He) took his job very seriously as I know he takes judging very seriously."

Dunc, as Ellison called him, got into law because he loved it.

"He was a real student of the law, I guess, a lawyer's lawyer."

As a judge, Shaw has grappled over the last decade with an array of thorny cases.

Last year, he ruled the media cannot publish the names of young offenders charged with serious crimes, including murder, until a transfer hearing to adult court takes place and a 30-day appeal period expires.

Until Shaw's February ruling, the media had been reporting the names of 16- and 17-year olds automatically raised to adult court to stand trial.

In 1997, he ruled against a company that claimed it lost a $13-million contract to build a B.C. Hydro plant because a faulty time stamp suggested the company submitted its bid 60 seconds late -- at 11:01 a.m. instead of 11 a.m.

In 1996, Shaw blamed the province for the death of a man who fell off a Vancouver Island bridge while chatting with some passers-by.

A flaw in the bridge's construction led the man to step onto what he thought was a sidewalk. Shaw awarded the man's widow $300,000 and his daughter $30,000.

When not on the bench, Shaw's hobbies include travel and golf.

Copyright © 1999 by The Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.